Ben Meyer

Special Topics Correspondent

Ben took the newly-created position of Special Topics Correspondent at WXPR in September of 2019.  He has a specific focus through his grant-funded position: reporting on water and water resources in northern Wisconsin and Michigan's Upper Peninsula.  Through his on air and online reporting, Ben explores water as a necessity for life and as an identity for the region.

Prior to joining the WXPR team, Ben spent more than seven years serving in several roles at WJFW-TV in Rhinelander.

Originally from Mount Horeb, Wisconsin, Ben is a graduate of UW-Madison. He lives in Rhinelander with his fiancee, Erika.  Outside of work, Ben is an avid Brewers and Badgers fan.  He enjoys doing outdoor projects, running, and competing in triathlons.  Ben is also a WIAA basketball official and calls play-by-play for Rhinelander Hodags sports.

State of Wisconsin

The Oneida County drunk-driving conviction of a man with a creative defense argument will stand.

On Friday, the State Supreme Court refused to take up the appeal of 48-year-old Jude Giles, who lives in Merrill.

Giles admitted to having six to eight shots of vodka just before rear-ending a vehicle in Woodruff in 2016.

At a hospital, his blood showed an alcohol concentration of .14, well above the legal limit.

But Giles hoped to argue the alcohol hadn’t been absorbed into his system when he crashed, so he wasn’t driving drunk.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

Lakes Superior, Michigan, and Huron are on pace to set all-time records for high water levels in February.

Lake Superior is 15 inches above normal, while Michigan and Huron are more than three feet above average.

That’s sent Great Lakes states into action, scrambling for solutions as water stays high.

Erika Warning-Meyer

Note: WXPR’s Ben Meyer celebrated his honeymoon in New Zealand this month with his wife, Erika.  This week’s edition of The Stream is inspired by their visit to one of New Zealand’s mountain glaciers.

Every day the weather cooperates, a helicopter delivers hikers onto Fox Glacier in the mountains of New Zealand’s South Island.

Guides lead groups wearing boots and crampons across the ice sheet, which sparkles white on the surface and bright blue in its many crevasses and ice arches.

A two-term state Senator will face the president of the Wausau School Board in May’s special election in the 7th Congressional District.

Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) won his primary election against Jason Church on Tuesday, while Tricia Zunker (D-Wausau) easily defeated Lawrence Dale on the Democratic side.

The winner will replace former Congressman Sean Duffy, who resigned in September.

Zunker got nearly 90 percent of the vote in the Democratic primary, but she told WXPR she’s been focusing on the general election for a long time.

State Sen. Tom Tiffany (R-Minocqua) and Wausau School Board Chair Tricia Zunker (D-Wausau) will face off in May’s special election to represent Wisconsin’s 7th Congressional District.

Tiffany and Zunker each won their primary elections on Tuesday.  Tiffany defeated military veteran Jason Church in the Republican primary, and Zunker beat businessman Lawrence Dale in the Democratic Race.

A simple purple tube may help first responders better care for people with memory issues in emergency situations.

Forest County wants people with Alzheimer’s or dementia and their families to get involved.

Forest County Aging Director Tammy Queen knows emergency situations can be hectic and difficult.  That’s even more true for people diagnosed with a memory-related condition, especially the elderly.

Wisconsin Legislative Fiscal Bureau/Susan Hedman

Wisconsin is the home of its own conservation hall of fame, the home of the founder of Earth Day, Gaylord Nelson, and the home of John Muir.

It was the first state in America to ban DDT.

“Wisconsin has had such a long tradition in the conservation area and protecting the environment,” said Susan Hedman, the former Great Lakes Region Administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

Hedman says Wisconsin used to a leader in the field.  But now, it’s a leader in something else.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Michael Anderson uses a long bit on a drill to bust through the ice on Silver Lake in Eagle River.

“That would be a good depth for an ice castle right now,” Anderson says, measuring about 15 inches of ice.

That’s plenty for harvesting and forming into blocks for ice-castle building.

But there’s a problem.  A deep layer of slush on Silver Lake makes it inaccessible to the machines and trucks needed to transport ice blocks.

Without the ice blocks, there’s no ice castle downtown, and that means Anderson has to break the bad news to a lot of people.

Dan Dumas/Kim Swisher Communications

It’s not difficult for Norm Pestka to picture what used to be here.

After all, the land that’s now underwater was dry just a few months ago.

“It’s been fine here for years.  They lost 45 feet in one storm.  The beach was out there, literally,” Pestka said, motioning to a patch of Lake Superior now submerged.

Pestka is standing on private land just outside Ontonagon in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  Lake Superior stretches out before him.  It’s mostly open water, save for some ice, snow, and floating ice chunks near the shore.

Star Journal

Oneida County Judge Michael Bloom has dismissed a case against Rhinelander Mayor Chris Frederickson and four members of the city council.

The decision came on Wednesday, according to online court records.

The Lakeland Times and Northwoods River News filed a civil complaint against the elected officials.

Forest County Sheriff's Office

On Wednesday, the Forest County Sheriff’s Office announced four drug-related arrests within the last week.

Last Thursday, a Wabeno traffic stop revealed meth, syringes, and drug items in a car driven by Kristen Kozlowski, 35, of Laona.  Shandon Tallier, 41, of Laona was also in the car.

Both were arrested, and detectives found more meth, drug manufacturing materials, a digital scale, and packaging materials during a search of their homes.

Kozlowski and Tallier are in jail on $2,000 cash bonds.

The last defendant in the case of the 2017 killing of a Lac du Flambeau man was finally sentenced this week.

Judge Kevin Klein sentenced Evan Oungst, 29, to 22 years in prison, followed by 20 years on extended supervision.

He’s the fifth person sent to prison in connection with death of Wayne Valliere, Jr., in December 2017.

On New Year’s Day in 2018, police found Valliere’s body in a remote part of Iron County.  He had been beaten then shot several times.

Oungst pleaded guilty to second degree reckless homicide and 11 other felonies as part of the case.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

Charlee Krueger finds her backpack and coat, and her mother Renee scrapes ice from the windshield of their car.  By 7 a.m., they’re ready to go.

Charlee is a second grader at Maple Grove Elementary School in the Merrill Area Public School District.

She’s one of just 80 students enrolled in the far-flung school about 15 miles from the city.  She could be one of the final 80 to attend school there, as Merrill contemplates closing it before next year.

Lincoln County

Near the end of his 35-minute State of the State speech on Wednesday night, Gov. Tony Evers looked into the gallery and asked a Merrill-area man to stand.

“In 2017, Hans, who is a dairy farmer and Lincoln County board supervisor, introduced a resolution supporting nonpartisan redistricting, kicking off a trend across our state,” Evers said.

A moment later, Evers announced he would form a nonpartisan redistricting commission to draw new legislative maps after this year’s census is complete.

Ben Meyer/WXPR

The waters of the Biron Flowage are no more than ten feet from the porch of Mike Spranger’s second home.

“This is the reason we bought it,” he said.  “The water is right there.”

The 1,500-square-foot house is just ten minutes from Spranger’s main residence in Wisconsin Rapids.  He and his wife bought it in 2015, mainly as a refuge for their four grandchildren, who took to the water